Red White & Blue

Red White & Blue


Reviewed by: David Graham

British director Simon Rumley has made a name for himself with uncompromising horror films that keep one uncomfortable foot in reality, through mental health hell-ride The Living And The Dead and his 'Bitch' segment from the Little Deaths anthology. Red White & Blue hits even closer to home by functioning primarily as a slow-burn drama about three damaged souls, only exploding into disturbing violence for a deeply upsetting climax. That it manages to deal with some harrowing and pertinent issues in a clear-headed and unsensationalist manner makes it all the more remarkable, its devastating effect enhanced by a trio of finely nuanced and convincing performances.

Erica is a destructively promiscuous loner, finding catharsis in physical connection but unable to emotionally let anybody in. This initially includes frazzled but honorable Iraq vet Nate, whose advances confuse the girl for their lack of an ulterior motive. Aspiring rocker Franki enjoyed a one-night-stand with Erica and soon has reasons for getting reacquainted with her, despite having a steady girlfriend. The three's impact on each other's lives may be redemptive in the short term, but it threatens to turn deadly as their hold on each other intensifies.

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It's hard to discuss Red White & Blue without ruining some of its revelations; it works best served cold, and demands your full attention. Nothing much seems to be happening for large stretches of the first half, but the character details mounts inexorably, hinting at Erica's untold hurt and Nate's aching longing for someone to accept him. Their hesitant romance is intensely absorbing, but the film's slow pace could leave viewers expecting a straight revenge flick wondering what all the fuss is about.

Franki's character becomes increasingly important as the narrative develops. His story at first seems out of place, but in many ways it's this more normal, less interesting figure that is the most ambiguous. It soon transpires that all three of them are monsters in their own way - sometimes unwitting, other times spitefully so - and the dynamic of how they use and abuse their powers takes the film into some dark and depressing territory. This isn't just blood and guts mayhem; this is about the mental repercussions of bodily violence. The spare soundtrack and realistically unremarkable Austin locations only add to the feeling of creeping anguish for the protagonists.

Rumley's characters occasionally express discomforting viewpoints that film-makers have seldom been brave enough to represent, with Amanda Fuller, in particular, bringing real emotional weight to her heart-breakingly defiant admissions. Marc Senter grows into his role as Franki as it becomes more complex and conflicting, fleshing out the naive but well-meaning youth as his journey becomes ever-more fraught. Noah Taylor is frighteningly impressive as the superficially placid but ready to explode Nate; while this character's trajectory is the most predictable of the three, Rumley manages to make even his actions sympathetic thanks to a delicately placed and deeply saddening epilogue that makes you want to watch the film all over again.

Red, White And Blue is a thoroughly impressive achievement for Rumley, working as a hugely affecting human drama and also a riveting and tragic horror thriller. The leads all give deceptively layered performances, building the audience's investment in their fate towards the undeniably shocking and grueling climax.

Many genre fans may be turned off by the unfashionable amount of time Rumley spends just observing his characters and fleshing them out in such fine detail, but it shows an admirable confidence in his writing that is fully justified given how courageously it explores such unsettling subject matter. The film can only be truly appreciated in its aftermath, and will resonate in your head for days; it's not exactly a life-affirming experience but it is strangely moving and cathartic in its own sick and twisted way.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2011
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A damaged woman strikes up a tentative bond with an Iraq veteran in this psychological horror.
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